Above average in a changed market

It used to be said in the motor industry boom years that you could walk out of one factory job in Coventry on Friday night and walk into another on Monday morning.

Now if you are out of work you could be in for a long wait. The type of work available in the Midlands city has fundamentally changed during the past 15 years, with thousands of jobs being shed in manufacturing. There used to be a skills pyramid: a few people were professionals, there was a large number of skilled machinists and a huge pool of unskilled labour working on production lines.

Now employment patterns in the city look quite different: there are a few more professionals, more skilled jobs and far fewer unskilled ones.

Coventry's careers company, Quality Careers Limited, has been shaped by the loss of jobs and the need to make young people aware of the increased importance of education and training.

In 1982 Coventry City Council decided to put a careers officer in every secondary school to make sure they were able to give young people as much help as possible.

When the service became Quality Careers Limited in 1995 it was keen to maintain a public service ethos and kept careers advisers in the schools. The company's managing director Steve Stewart believes the extra cost of having staff in school is minimal as advisers do other work for the service. They visit schools from just before break until after lunch and have an administrator to help them.

But there are important benefits such as building better relationships with young people to help advise them better.

Despite having to cover 19 comprehensives from 76 full-time equivalent staff the company produced 7,300 career plans for young people this year. Its Pounds 2.2 million budget also covered Pounds 500,000 of outreach work that helps a few hundred of the most alienated young people.

People who are about to lose their jobs at whatever age get free detailed careers advice provided by money from the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, Training and Enterprise.

Basic advice and use of the careers library are free to anyone.

But a full interview and psychometric tests costs Pounds 45 unless you are unemployed, with special needs, or someone the company is responsible for.

Mr Stewart said the company wa s considering drawing up a sliding scale but staff were due to carry out a survey of clients before deciding how it would work.

Quality Careers also takes a pride in having a higher proportion of 16-year-old school-leavers remaining in education or getting jobs with training than the national average.

In Coventry 84.5 per cent of the age group made the grade in 1996 compared with 81.5 per cent in the West Midlands and 80 per cent in England as a whole.

But unemployment has remained persistently high in deprived parts of the city despite more opportunities, particularly the growth in part-time jobs. Many new part-time jobs have been taken by students or sixth-formers rather than young people from housing estates.

As with many areas, some school-leavers lose touch with the company after they leave school.

Quality Careers uses outreach work to help long term unemployed young people and this missing group who make up 5 per cent of 16-year-olds and tend to move frequently from one estate to another and may be affected by family break-up or other problems.

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